For The Creative Company of Thunder Bay, the combination of COVID-19 and the assistance of Digital Main Street led to a road that might never have been taken. The rewards continue to roll in.
The Creative Co. was launched three years before the pandemic by a team of local artists with a passion for inspiring people to “Be Creative.” It’s all built on the premise that taking time to quiet your mind and engage in a creative activity can reduce stress, trigger happiness and spark inspiration.
Challenge: Like having to start over as a new business
The team needed some fresh inspiration of its own when the pandemic struck. The Creative Co. had to pivot from being a service-based business that functioned almost entirely as an in-person art studio, to also being a product-based business that could support remote sales.
While the team recognized the need for this shift in focus, the change didn’t come easily.
“After spending our first three years figuring things out and getting ourselves moving in the right direction, it was like we had to start over with a brand-new business,” said Founder and CEO Deena Kruger. “We had to rebrand who we are and what we do and convey that online.”
The Creative Co. developed a product line of unique, premium painting kits for all ages to enjoy at home – All-In-One Painting Kitz and Creative Bundlez. The original in-person classes were also supplemented by video-conference sessions.
“All of this created a more flexible experience that has been really therapeutic for our customers as they live through the pandemic,” Dee said.
In addition to better conveying what products and services The Creative Co. now offered, Dee realized she needed a website that was easier for customers to navigate and better designed to support e-commerce.
But resources were tight for The Creative Co. to invest in its third website in as many years. Available cash was already being consumed with stocking up for the new products-based side of its business. Dee struggled for ideas … until her local web design firm introduced her to Digital Main Street (DMS).
Solution: An e-commerce website designed to engage, drive sales
DMS is a government-funded program specifically designed to support small customer-facing businesses across Ontario with grants, training, hands-on help and various resources. Dee qualified for a DMS Digital Transformation Grant and took advantage of the program’s free educational resources and expert counseling. That counseling included direct coaching in online marketing and web design through DMS’s local Digital Service Squad.
This provided The Creative Co. with the expertise and funding to build an effective and engaging e-commerce website. It’s not just about product sales, but also, more personalized engagement between the studio’s artists and their patrons, too. The Creative Co. can now reach more people with a digital experience that’s more in line with the in-person experience, for both products and services.
In addition to individual product sales, The Creative Co.’s Kitz and Bundlez are today also sold in bulk to various organizations, First Nations, school boards and remote communities across Canada.
In fact, bulk sales now make up about 75 percent of total product sales and the business has begun to penetrate the U.S. market. Meanwhile, the personal work of the studio’s talented artists continues to decorate homes and offices.
Results: On track to become a multimillion-dollar business
“Thanks to DMS’s help, we have greater alignment between our website, our social media and how we now operate, and we have stronger communication with our customers,” Dee said. “Before the pandemic, we didn’t do any e-commerce. Now I can’t imagine having a business without a strong online presence. This has become all the more important for us as a Northern Ontario business, where distance drives up our operating costs.”
These operational changes and digital investments have The Creative Co. eyeing growth targets it would never have considered as a service-based operation before the pandemic.
“Business is now growing at double-digit rates,” Dee said. “We are on track to become a multimillion-dollar operation within the next few years.”
Her experience has left Dee a strong advocate for any business to take full advantage of its online potential.
“You do need that sexy e-commerce website, supported by social media,” she said. “Online, you’re going to reach people you never would have and create more word-of-mouth that will come back to benefit you.”
Dee’s story is just one example of how small businesses across Ontario have taken advantage of the Digital Main Street Ontario Initiative.
For more information, go to www.digitalmainstreet.ca